Sundance 2013 Review: Breathe in

'Drake Doremus understands human behavior and conveys it expertly.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Breathe In was one of my two most anticipated movies at Sundance this year. The other is The East which I’m seeing later this week. The reason is that both filmmakers made striking impressions on me at my first Sundance in 2011. Like Crazy was Drake Doremus’s third film, the kind of gut punching emotional romance I love, and I seem to be the only one who has a positive interpretation of its ambiguous ending at this point. When I got home, I went back and saw his previous films, Douchebag and Spooner, and found I really liked the way Doremus portrays human behavior. I didn’t expect Breathe In to blow me away like Like Crazy, because it’s not as personal a situation to me and it’s not the first Drake Doremus movie I’m seeing anymore, but with that in mind I was ready to love Breathe In, and I did.

Like Crazy’s Felicity Jones plays Sophie, a foreign exchange student staying with the family of music teacher Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce). Sophie is a brilliant pianist but she wants to quit Keith’s class, and Keith is a frustrated musician who’d rather be a concert cellist than teach. Tensions with his wife Megan (Amy Ryan), who wants to keep her suburban lifestyle, and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) having her first intimate relationship create an uncomfortable environment that’s sure to boil over.

Once again, Doremus understands human behavior and conveys it expertly. However, all the characters in Like Crazy were lovely, well-meaning folks, even the other man/woman in the two love triangles. Keith and Megan are both pretty smug and judgmental. Keith craves a return to the city and Megan wants to keep the big house and conserve their money. They’re both craving something that won’t fulfill them and it’s only going to spiral. Hey, it worked for douchebags in his second film and it works for unfulfilled grown-ups in Breathe In. Jones is just so vulnerable she’s captivating. Her awkward attempt to quit Keith’s class while he’s pressuring her is only the beginning.

An interesting intellectual subtext to Breathe In is how just because you’re great at something doesn’t mean you love it. And someone who’s jealous of your expertise or talent really won’t understand why you’re not using your gift. That’s a profound observation, and Keith wishes he were as good at cello as Sophie is at piano, but Sophie has to find her passion, not his.

You can probably see where this is going, but Breathe In doesn’t play the adultery clichés. There’s no stolen passionate tryst. It’s just a slow burn of subtle scenes where Keith and Sophie are just getting to know each other, but it’s an inappropriate relationship developing.

I’m so happy to see another Drake Doremus movie, and I think I’ll always enjoy his style. He employs improvisation but it doesn’t feel improvised. Somehow he gets everyone to say exactly what the character needs to say, and edits it down to the essence. Watching an inappropriate relationship develop in this style is perhaps a more intellectual than emotional experience, for me at least. If you’ve coveted a young prodigy in your artistic industry, maybe Breathe In is more emotional. It shows there is a lot of life in this format, and I will now wait until I can see Doremus’s next movie at a future Sundance Film Festival. 

Make sure to check out all of Crave Online's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival here!

And check out these other reviews from Sundance 2013:

Who is Dayani Cristal?; starring Gael Garcia Bernal
Two Mothers; starring Robin Wright and Naomi Watts
Austenland; starring Keri Russell
Emmanuel and the Truth About Fishes; starring Kaya Scodelario
Don Jon's Addiction; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson
Virtually Heroes; produced by Roger Corman
Inequality for All; featuring Robert Reich
Blue Caprice; starring Isaiah Washington and Tim Blake Nelson
Fill the Void; starring Renana Raz
Running From Crazy; featuring Mariel Hemingway
Wrong Cops; starring Steve Little
Hell Baby; starring Rob Corddry
Stoker; starring Nicole Kidman
Escape from Tomorrow; shot without permits at Disney World
Before Midnight; starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
We Are What We Are; starring Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner
Afternoon Delight; starring Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple
Ass Backwards; starring Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael
I Used to Be Darker; starring Deragh Campbell
Magic Magic; starring Juno Temple
Prince Avalanche; starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch
Sweetwater; starring January Jones, Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris
Crystal Fairy; starring Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffman
S-VHS; sequel to found footage horror film V/H/S
; starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard and Sharon Stone
The East; starring Brit Marling and Alexander Saarsgaard
After Tiller, about abortion doctor George Tiller
Citizen Koch, about The Koch Brothers and campaign finance contributions
Gangs of Wasseypur, a 5 1/2 hour Indian crime epic
In Fear, a horror movie set entirely within a car
The Rambler, starring Dermot Mulroney
What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love, about a school for the blind and deaf
Upstream Color; starring Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz


Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.

Photo Credit: Sundance Institute